Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah MacLean

Book Description:
She lives for passion. 

Bold, impulsive, and a magnet for trouble, Juliana Fiori is no simpering English miss. She refuses to play by society's rules: she speaks her mind, cares nothing for the approval of the ton, and can throw a punch with remarkable accuracy. Her scandalous nature makes her a favorite subject of London's most practiced gossips . . . and precisely the kind of woman The Duke of Leighton wants far far away from him.

He swears by reputation.

Scandal is the last thing Simon Pearson has room for in his well-ordered world. The Duke of Disdain is too focused on keeping his title untainted and his secrets unknown. But when he discovers Juliana hiding in his carriage late one evening—risking everything he holds dear—he swears to teach the reckless beauty a lesson in propriety. She has other plans, however; she wants two weeks to prove that even an unflappable duke is not above passion.


I've been looking forward to reading Juliana Fiori's story ever since I heard it was coming up next in MacLean's Love by Numbers series. Juliana has been a favorite of mine as the feisty Italian half-sister of the Marquess of Ralston and his twin brother, Nick. From what we see of her in the first two books in the series, I knew her opposites match up with the horrid Duke of Leighton would make a good story. Indeed, it did not disappoint.

Juliana has a knack for finding scandal - or rather scandal finds her, and Simon Pearson, the oh-so-respectable Duke of Leighton cannot resist her. Ever since their first meeting at a bookstore months before, he has been unable to forget her. Like a Siren (his pet name for her) her beauty and vivaciousness has tugged at him. He cannot stop himself from wanting her, knowing there cannot be a more unsuitable mate for him in society. Battling between his sense of familial duty and the unexpected passion that is unleashed as he gradually falls in love with Juliana, I grew to like Simon. My congratulations to the author for pulling this off, for Leighton was such a loathsome snob in the previous books, I didn't know how she'd make me like him in this one.

But, she did!

This cold and austere aristocrat won me over.  I marveled over his complete transformation and enlightenment.  Every word and interaction between Juliana, an adorable and effervescent heroine, and Simon, the Duke of Disdain, was a treat that I looked forward to.  It was simply a pleasure to read on until the very end!
Juliana is a captivating heroine. I kept picturing Sophia Loren with her gorgeous dark looks in my mind.  Shades of the movie "Houseboat" with Cary Grant came to mind - yumm. No wonder the Duke of Leighton couldn't resist her!  Constantly getting into scrapes and mishaps, Simon was always there to rescue her.  Whether it was finding her in his carriage after she'd been hiding from a overly friendly drunken lord or saving her from drowning in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, all too soon, he couldn't resist the lure of kissing her.  Where there's one kiss, passion leads to another.  Still, he can't let this go on.  Juliana, the daughter of a marchioness who deserted her family and ran off with an Italian merchant is no one he can possibly consider marrying  He cannot fall for her, he cannot have her because he has his duty as a duke and he must secure his family's respectability by marrying well.  Why?  Because his sister has done the unthinkable.  She has gotten herself pregnant and is about to have a baby girl in secret - out of wedlock.  When the ton finds out, it will mean social ruin, so he must find himself a respectable wife in order to offset the scandal before the world knows of his family's fall from grace.

As you can imagine, Juliana knows nothing about his sister and is hurt over and over again because Simon keeps rejecting her - even though it's obvious he's into her!  Her insecurities regarding her parentage worsen as the mean-spirited gossip mongers of the ton take every opportunity to hurt her if they can.  Juliana takes the high road and tends to ignore them, even rubbing it in their noses by acting scandalously, but deep down it's getting to her.  Her one shining light in it all is the thought of Simon and the way he makes her feel.  Does he care for her or not?

At one point he does the honorable thing and impulsively offers for her when her brother finds them together kissing in the stable.  Juliana doesn't want him that way - out of obligation and refuses his suit.  Torn by his own feelings of wanting Juliana and wanting to do right by his family, Leighton becomes engaged to an impeccably suited young woman of the ton the next day - before he can change his mind.  His future is secure - until his sister has her baby and he must go to the country and see her.  Once there, he realizes what's really important in life.  His priorities change almost overnight when he holds his newborn niece in his arms.  He cannot turn his sister away and he can no longer deny his love for Juliana, who conveniently happens to be visiting her half-brother Nick and his wife Isobel at the same country house in Yorkshire.  Leighton's sister, Georgiana has been staying there as a refuge during her confinement. 

While in Yorkshire, Juliana and Simon come to terms with one another and have one special night together - but what about the future? His betrothal? What about Juliana's scandalous mother who has returned to London to wreak havoc?  Even though Juliana knows Simon cares for her and wants to marry her instead of the respectable Penelope, she cannot say yes.  She is afraid that in time he will come to hate her, for society will never accept her, or any of their future children.  They will be outcasts.  Will Simon still love her if and when that happens?  Juliana flees, leaving Simon to think about the choices he must make.

I really love Sarah MacLean's storytelling.  Not only is the plot well done but there are a lot of little details that add to the richness of the story that make her characters real and likable.  Little things like Simon's dog Leopold.  Leopold has a tendency of hogging Simon's favorite chair and lets out a long suffering sigh when he's ousted from the master's seat (any dog owner knows that canine sigh so well!)  I chuckled when Simon converses with his dog before kicking him out of the chair.

"Oh, I'm sorry, am I disturbing your rest?"

Been there, done that.

I love Juliana's Italian mannerisms, her little shrugs, her accent, the way she adorably mangles the English language - I found it funny and endearing!  I love her, can you tell?  Lastly, my favorite part of the book is Leighton's third and final proposal - so romantic and heartfelt and just really good! It brought tears to my eyes.  He had already won me over by that point, but this was the icing on the cake!  I was truly happy for them.  He has such a complete turnaround - be still my heart!

I'm leaving tons out, but trust me it's a great story!  It had me going all the way up to the very end and epilogue!  For once, no kidnappings or murder plots in the last third of the book!  There were a few loose ends that could have been dealt with and a few unbelievable situations that would never really happen in real life.  But, this is a romance afterall and I often resort to suspended disbelief while reading romances.  Still, I'd love to know what Leighton's mother, an über snob, did when she found out her son had married someone so common!  And whatever happened to Juliana's scandalous mother, maybe we'll find out in the next book?  Another loose end - Penelope, Leighton's fiancée.  She didn't want to marry him and was unhappy at the idea, but this was never expanded upon. Why?  Is she going to get a book of her own eventually?  I'd like to see if Georgiana finds love - maybe with Benedick - Callie's gracious older brother who offered for Juliana in a gesture of kindness.

I'm really enjoying this series, I preferred this book over the last one, but I do wonder how the author is going to keep this numbers naming thing going - it's kind of gimmicky, but I don't care as long as the actual stories are good. *Aha, just found out this is the last book in the series!  No more numbers and alas, I guess no stories for some of the side characters I liked!  One last thing, as much as I loved this book, the color on this cover is hideous! Bubble gum pink!?  Aack!  What were they thinking?  Still, don't judge a book by it's cover, this is a real winner!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Dark One by Ronda Thompson

Book Description:
Rosalind Rutherford knows full well the scandal she courts when she attempts to seduce the notorious Armond Wulf—in fact, she’s counting on it as a means to escape her sadistic stepbrother’s control. Unfortunately, Lord Wulf’s better instincts prevail...although not before he gives Rosalind a tantalizing taste of what she’s missing. And when the opportunity arises to rescue Armond from a grim fate while changing her own, Rosalind knows she must seize it...

Armond can no more ignore the Rutherford woman than his ancestor could resist the temptress who cursed the Wulf men with a terrifying transformation that occurs at the appearance of the full moon—and is set in motion by love. Now, to save her reputation and his freedom, Armond must marry Rosalind. But he vows that while they may share the pleasures of the marriage bed, she will never have his heart...

Yet as strange and mysterious events bring them closer in body and soul, Armond finds it increasingly difficult to keep his feelings for his new wife locked away. Especially when the reality of unquenchable desire—and certain danger—burn stronger than ever by the light of a full moon.

I really enjoyed this first in the Wild Wulfs of London paranormal Regency series of four brothers that are cursed to be werewolves unless they can break the spell that takes over when they each fall in love.  Having witnessed what befell their father before he commit suicide and later drove their mother insane, they have sworn to never fall in love with a woman nor marry.  When Armond Wulf, the eldest of the four meets Rosalind Rutherford, he cannot resist her and he becomes sorely tempted to break his vow regarding love and marriage.

Armond Wulf is a bad boy.  Lion-like with a mane of blond hair, he exudes danger and sexuality.  Women are afraid of him, yet vastly attracted to him as well. He's just what Rosalind Rutherford needs.  Rosalind is a desperate woman.  Trapped and at the mercy of her psychopathic stepbrother, Franklin, who plans on marrying his virgin stepsister off to the highest bidder to pay off his gambling debts, she intends on ruining her own reputation so that her brother will not be able to marry her off.  (Never mind that he'll probably beat her to a pulp when he finds out what she did!) How convenient that the notorious Armond Wulf is her next-door neighbor in London.  She's heard enough about him so that if she is seen leaving with him, she will be ruined by the next morning.   The plan makes no sense, but as a plot device, it works for it forces Rosalind to proposition Armond at a ball. 

Instantly attracted to her upon first sight, he doesn't hesitate in leaving with her, thinking she's had some experience in this sort of thing before.  Armond likes to act the part of ne'er do well rake, but he has a conscience.  Once he realizes Rosalind is an innocent he decides to teach her a lesson, thinking she's merely propositioning him on a dare in front of her friends.  Once inside his enclosed carriage, Rosalind loses her nerve, but not after sampling some of the kisses from the experienced Armond who leaves an indelible impression upon Rosalind's memory. 

Little does Armond know of the danger that Rosalind faces daily while living in her brother's house.  Her reputation remained intact after that night, but Armond becomes curious about his lovely neighbor and cannot forget her.  They see each other again at a party and, although she has a veil, he notices the bruises on her face and arms and puts two and two together about her brother, who is beating her.   It doesn't take Armond long to figure out what's going on.  His sense of nobility will not allow her to remain at the mercy of her brother.

A series of events take place so that Armond must marry Rosalind.  His brothers are aghast and against the idea, but there is nothing he can do.  He must marry her in order to save her reputation (ironic, isn't it?)   But, there's still the niggling problem with the family curse.  Armond is starting to notice more and more that he's developing supernatural powers and the closer he gets to Rosalind and the stronger his feelings for her, the more his werewolf senses come to the surface.  He's worried of what Rosalind will think when she realizes she's married to a werewolf!  He shuts himself off from her to protect her, much to her chagrin.  She likes being his wife - and in his bed.

This is where the book turned angsty and I had to keep reading until I got to the very end.  Rosalind's hands are really full!  Even though she is left in the dark about the Wulf curse, she finds a poem that was written about it and starts to figure things out for herself.  She suspects what's happening to Armond and wants to help him break the curse.  Can she?  Can her acceptance of him as he is, break the curse?  Will he give her the chance to even try? Meanwhile, her stepbrother is furious she eloped with Armond, foiling his plans for paying off his gambling debts.  The debts go to a particularly loathsome man, who it turns out is a pervert and has his sights on Rosalind.   His plans for her - with her stepbrother - are beyond repulsive.

The book becomes especially exciting, though nerve wracking.  Though Rosalind is now married and under the protection of the Wulf's, she is still constantly putting herself in danger by visiting her ailing stepmother next door at her brother's house, while he is not home.  It drove me crazy, especially since she always seemed to do it when Armond wasn't around to rescue her (against his implicit instructions, btw!)  Of course, you know what happens!   It's a long story and all hell breaks loose!  Between Armond having to defend himself from being accused of murder and Rosalind having an extremely close call with her stepbrother and his evil friend, it was a real nail biter by the end!

There are two more books in this series and a novella, so that all four brothers are covered in the series. I was so sorry to learn that the author, Ronda Thompson, tragically died in 2007 of cancer.  I really loved this book,  and I'm eager to read the next.  A worthwhile historical paranormal!


Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley

Book Description:
When a nice girl asks twelve men to get naked, it's sure to cause a scandal...

Emma Tremayne leaves her high-powered PR job and moves to the Lake District looking for peace, quiet-and celibacy. So perhaps it's not the best idea when, in the spirit of "community-mindedness," she agrees to help the local mountain rescue team fundraise by putting together a "tasteful" nude calendar. Especially since quite a lot of the community seems to mind what she's up to-including the tall, dark and handsome Mr. December, Will Tennant, who appears to have gotten the wrong impression about Emma's intentions. So how does she convince him that he's more than just the flavor of the month?

I bought this book for my kindle on a whim because it was only .99 cents.  It's a cute chick lit kind of story with some Pride and Prejudice themes.  First impressions can be deceiving and everyone deserves a second chance.  Londoner, Emma Tremayne finds this out.  After being fired from her high powered PR job in London, she moves to the north of England's Lake District to get away from it all, re-group and lick her wounds.  While there she helps out the local community by doing PR work for the volunteer search and rescue squad to raise money for their new base.  Her idea to raise money?  A nude calender, with a different male member of the squad posing for each month.  All very tasteful, of course, nothing too raunchy or embarrassing.

The idea is voted in, but not everyone is crazy about it.  Emma takes an instant dislike to her main opponent, Will Tennant, one of the squad members who is also a prominent and highly successful entrepreneur.  He fears it will make the squad look foolish and they won't be taken seriously.  Ironically, he winds up posing for the month of December because they ran out of guys on the squad who can pose for it.  It doesn't hurt that he's tall, dark and handsome - but, with a notorious past when it comes to romance.  Rumor has it he left his ex-fiancee at the alter the day of their wedding!  Unforgivable!  Despite Emma's attraction to him, she wants nothing to do with him.  She's already had her fill of jerk love 'em and leave 'em boyfriends to last her a lifetime.  Of course she has the totally wrong impression about him, all is not as it seems.  Turns out he's the one that got left in the lurch and was left brokenhearted (shades of Bridget Jones's Diary).

The book jumps back and forth between Will's point of view and Emma's.  He's instantly smitten with her, but hesitant to ask her out because there's so much animosity between the two of them.  She finds him irresistible as well, but his reputation puts her off.   The backdrop with the whole climbing and rescue theme was interesting and new to me.  It made me curious about the Lake District of England.  I learned some things about rappelling and climbing and also about the Cumbria area and how dangerous it can be when the mists roll in on the mountains. 

As you can imagine, Will and Emma follow a rocky road to love, but they do get there... eventually.  Still, I never quite warmed up to Emma and grew tired of the long build up in their romance.  The misconceptions and lack of communication between them really dragged on and once Emma finally "saw the light" about him, it was still frustrating that she had some issues about him.  It took a bad fall and a hospital stay to clear the air.  Overall, it was a cute, somewhat predictable story with a lot of atmosphere, but I found Emma a tad unlikable. I don't read a lot of chick lit, primarily because I generally find modern day heroine's annoying in chick lit novels.  Still, it wasn't all that bad, a nice little diversion for me and a quick read.

By the way, this book was originally released under the title of Decent Exposure in 2006 in the UK.   It was also the inspiration for a TV movie called, 12 Men of Christmas in which they Americanized it and changed the location from Britain to Montana - I'll have to check it out sometime. 


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware

Book Description:
Some might call it running away . . .

But after a scandalous Hollywood divorce, Blythe Stowe considered it damage control for body and soul. The pain, the humiliation, the daily tabloids shouting details as her famous husband dumped her for her own sister demanded a serious getaway: to the wild coast of Cornwall and a cottage by the sea that her Wyoming grandmother claimed had been home to her ancestors.

Some might call it chance . . .

But Blythe encountered more than just a quaint retreat nestled amid vivid skies and gorgeous ocean. And she had the odd sensation that her wickedly handsome neighbor Lucas Teague was more than a British gentleman going broke. He might be her destiny . . .

Another Ciji Ware winner that swept me away! I totally enjoyed this story of a young woman who leaves Hollywood and her messy divorce behind to the shores of Cornwall, England where she eerily experiences the life of her ancestor who lived on the very land where she rents a cottage for the summer. She also meets her handsome landlord - lord of the manor - who has his own demons and memories to overcome.  A good book that got me from the very beginning!

Blythe Barton Stowe needs to get away from Hollywood - and her no good ex-husband, a famous Oscar-winning British film director.  Cornwall is the perfect place to get away from it all, far the madding crowd so she can lick her wounds and get on with her life in peace and quiet.  She's somewhat shell shocked due to the publicity of her divorce and the fact her ex wasted no time in marrying her pregnant sister.  They married literally hours after the final divorce decree.

While in Cornwall, Blythe meets the handsome owner of the estate where she is renting a cottage for the summer.  They hit it off immediately.  While touring his grand home that has seen better days, she becomes hypnotized while reviewing a large genealogy chart on the wall of his library.  Blythe notices that some of the names are familiar on the chart, another Blythe Barton from over two hundred years ago is on it.  There seem to be other similarities as well.  Upon touching an engraved name on the chart, our Blythe is transported somehow in time to that person's life.  Blythe witnesses the goings on of the first Blythe's history as if watching the action of a movie.  No coincidence that Blythe worked for her husband as his set director. 

And so sets the tone of the book.  Blythe repeats this process a few times and learns about what happened to the ancestors that lived on the estate long, long ago.  Their tale is all tangled up, an unhappy forced marriage, marital betrayals between two siblings, not unlike Blythe's own experience with her sister, and the answer to the long lost tale of whatever happened to Blythe's ancestors and how they came to live in America.  As much as I was into the eighteenth century story, I preferred Blythe's own modern day story involving her romance with her landlord turned business partner, Lucas Teague. Ironic, since I usually prefer historicals.  

Lucas, though lord of the manor, is not a rich aristocratic.  He's an average man, a widower, who's trying to keep his ancestral property from taxes and ruin.  He also needs some healing after dealing with the death of his wife to cancer and the ordeal of raising his son, Richard, as a single parent - a task he is having a hard time with.   He and Blythe become friends and she comes up with an idea that he should start a nursery gardening business on his property that will pay for it's upkeep.  Meanwhile, Lucas' young son is staying with him for the summer during the school break and Blythe is curious about their seemingly strained relationship.  She can't help but notice that Richard is in great need of love and attention, yet Lucas seems incapable of showing it to his son.  That British stiff upper lip and all that kind of nonsense. What's the problem here and how can Blythe help without interfering where she's not wanted?   Plus, what does his son's godmother, an aristocratic perfectly manicured bitch in her Jaguar mean to Lucas?  It's obvious she has designs on him, but does he have a romantic interest in her?  Better yet, does he have romantic designs on Blythe? 

Sure enough, all our questions are answered. I loved their modern day story and the way it paralleled Blythe's eighteenth century genetic memories or whatever they are.  I devoured this book and loved it!  What sucked me in was the slow and burgeoning relationship that develops between Blythe and Lucas.  I was really rooting for them and couldn't wait to see what happened between them!  Their characters were well drawn, I sympathized with them, I didn't want their part of the story to end!    Of course, I always focus on the love interest!  But, it wasn't just that, I liked the whole package: Blythe, Lucas, his son, the housekeeper and her husband, the bitchy godmother (who I loved to hate, btw) and last but not least Blythe's shameless ex-husband who comes to visit in Cornwall asking for a favor!  I found all of it riveting and hard to put down! 

Although, as much as I loved reading about the modern day Blythe and her trials and tribulations, I can't say the same about the first Blythe Barton.  She was selfish and impulsive and I felt she got what she deserved.    To make matters worse, I did not like the idea that the author married her off to one of my favorite characters in another of her books, Island of the Swans (which I loved!)  No, no, no! Poor Thomas Fraser! Anyway, I digress...

I'm leaving out a lot of details but, trust me, this is a worthwhile read, one you can really get caught up in.  The eighteenth century part was a bit lacking in some ways, probably because we are "watching" that part of the book as spectators and none of the characters are likable.  Really, not one of them, except maybe Blythe's cousin who loved her.  We don't get into the characters heads as much, so I did not have the same amount of empathy for their plight as I did for Blythe and Lucas. Still, despite what the eighteenth century part lacked, the modern part more than made up for it.  I highly recommend the book as a whole.  Ms. Ware is fast becoming a favorite author of mine.  She has a way of luring you in and keeping you there until the final page - the sign of a fine storyteller!

Oh, and one last thing, wouldn't you know it?  After I bought it for my kindle, it's offered for free! Still, I don't mind, it was a great book and I loved it!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Man Must Marry by Janet Chapman

Book Description:
Trying to escape marriage, they are snared by love.

When Sam Sinclair's self-made millionaire grandfather sends Willa Kent, a woman none of the three Sinclair brothers have even heard of, as his proxy to an ultra-important meeting of the Sinclair shipping company, most people would think the old man had lost his marbles. But Sam knows his grandfather too well. For some reason, the wily old man has decided that one of his three grandsons should marry Willa, and this is his way of trying to force the issue....

So Willa and Sam team up on what seems like a wild-goose chase to find some loophole in Grandfather Sinclair's crazy notion. But as Sam crews Willa's yacht en route to Maine, he finds to his surprise that his grandfather's offbeat scheme is growing more attractive by the moment. Willa is smart, beautiful...and has a wild streak that sends them soaring together above the clouds.

But Willa isn't about to let Sam fly away with her heart until she knows his true motives. If the man wants to marry for money, then the woman in her says that first he must fall in love.

I'm a big Janet Chapman fan and I've loved her Maine Highlander books, but this stand alone contemporary was not up to what I've come to expect from her.  Although this novel had some quirky cute things in it, for the most part I found the story far fetched and I didn't connect with the heroine at all.

Here we have a story of a plump-ish, klutzy young woman, Willa Kent, who can't seem to get her act together.  Although she is obviously smart and attractive, she's been keeping herself holed up in Maine, afraid to live a real life after a tragic car accident that maimed her niece.  An accident she felt she was responsible for after witnessing her ex-husband's infidelity.  Instead, Willa has been living it up with a bunch of retirees that work for her in her casket factory.  Yes, I kid you not.  A casket factory.  Fate steps in when she winds up inheriting a fortune from an aging billionaire she befriended before he died.  He was building his own casket in her factory!

The sneaky billionaire wanted to make sure she'd be happy in life after his death.  So, he built in a catch to the inheritance.  It turns out he has three good looking grandsons who are eligible to take over the company.  He made a condition in the will that she must marry one of them - and have a baby within a few years - or else the family company reverts to his arch enemy and biggest competitor.  He knew she'd never let the family lose the company so this was his way to insure she'd marry, have kids, and be set for life.  Unfortunately, she has no idea about his plan until the will is read.  But before that, she's already met the grandsons...

One in particular, Sam - a hunk of the first order - falls for her overnight.   Sam is just too good to be true, except for the fact that he fell for Willa hook, line and sinker too fast.  I kept asking myself - why?  What did he see in her?  We never actually find out just what is Sam's reason for falling for her so quickly.  Is it for the company?  Is it just mad lust?  Has he been yearning for a certain someone all his life?  Na-da.  Willa is such an unlikely type for him, I really felt like we needed more background and thought process to justify Sam's impetuous behavior towards her.  Later on, when he's trying to win her while in Maine, we hear he's gained all this weight and has become depressed - and still we don't know why?  Is he demoralized that she's rejecting him or is he distraught over losing his grandfather?  That was fuzzy too.  Plus, I wasn't sure, are we actually supposed to believe he's really upset, or is it an act to work on Willa's sympathies?  There were a lot of gray areas in this book that had me doubting and second guessing and just plain scratching my head - why?

In New York, where they meet, she is a living wreck.  She can't walk in high heels and looks awful in a suit - the Sinclair brothers think of her as "a partridge."  It turns out she's aces captaining a boat at sea, but on land - especially around Sam - she's all thumbs.  She's hampered by all sorts of inferiority issues and baggage from the car crash.   Once she finds out about the will she hightails it back to Maine on the boat she just inherited.  But Sam has other ideas.  He has himself dropped into the ocean by a helicopter so she will be forced to rescue him and he crews for her from New York to Maine (hence, the cover of the book).  Another thing I forgot to mention about is how Willa changes when she's at sea.  On board she suddenly becomes a "wild woman" and she jumps Sam's bones and they have mad, passionate sex for four days at sea.  But, Willa's deal is, when they land, their fling is over.  Sam has other plans.  He intends to marry her and get her pregnant immediately.

As you can imagine, for most of the book Willa is running away from Sam and he's chasing after her.  Why would any sensible woman in her right mind resist a gorgeous guy who's crazy about her, wants to marry her and there's a huge fortune to go with it?  Like I said, she has issues.  She's convinced that she's such a klutz that she'd be an unsafe mother.  So, she had her tubes tied after the car accident.  Uh-oh, what does that do to the will?  No problem, Sam's sperm is so big and strong - she gets pregnant anyway! *rolls eyes*  Eventually she gives in to Sam and admits she's crazy about him too, but it was torture to read about how she finally determined how important he is to her.  Willa is such a basket case through most of this book, I could barely get through it. 

I had so many issues with this plot, I couldn't help shaking my head and can't believe I finished it. I was tempted to toss it.   I haven't even mentioned the whole side story of the battling retirees and Willa's sister who's married to a jerk.  However, one glaring item that was never fully developed upon was Barry, the grandson of the old man's arch enemy, who would get hold of the family company if Willa didn't marry one of the Sinclair brothers.   I thought we'd see more of him in the role of a villain.  After a few dates with Willa, his plot line just kind of fizzled out.  One of the things I did like in the book was Willa's niece who was unbelievably wise and well adjusted for a teenager with a prosthesis. 

If you like books with quirky plot lines, quirky settings and heroines who are in denial and don't believe they're worthy of a happily ever after ending then you might like this book.  Unfortunately, it was more of a head banger for me.


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Chief by Monica McCarty

Book Description:

Scouring the darkest corners of the Highlands and Western Isles, Robert the Bruce handpicks ten warriors to help him in his quest to free Scotland from English rule. They are the best of the best, chosen for their superior skills in each discipline of warfare. And to lead his secret Highland Guard, Bruce chooses the greatest warrior of all.

The ultimate Highland warlord and a swordsman without equal, Tor MacLeod has no intention of being drawn into Scotland’s war against the English. Dedicated to his clan, the fiercely independent chief answers to no one—especially not to his alluring new bride, bartered to him in a bid to secure his command of the deadliest fighting force the world has ever seen. The treacherous chit who made her way to Tor’s bed may have won his hand, but she will never claim his heart.

Although her husband’s reputation is as fierce as his manner, Christina Fraser believes that something softer hides beneath his brutal shell. But the only warmth she feels is in their bed, in glorious moments of white-hot desire that disappear with the dawn. When Christina’s reckless bid to win her husband’s love goes awry and thrusts them into danger on the eve of war, Tor will face his ultimate battle: to save his wife and to open his heart—before it’s too late.

As much as I've enjoyed Monica McCarty's earlier books, this was just an okay highlander romance which is centered on a cadre of warriors who are a sort of medieval Delta Force trained to aid Robert the Bruce in his fight for Scottish independence.  This is the first novel in her new Highland Guard series, each one centering on one of the invincible warriors who has his own particular talent for something.  Unfortunately, I found a lot of the book predictable, although I appreciated the settings that took place on Islay and Skye, two places I have planned to visit on my trip to Scotland this summer.

One of my problems with the story was alpha hero, Tor MacLeod. He was a tad "too much" for my liking.  Dour and grim, the chief of his clan is no nonsense and his clan comes first with everything.  This is not unusual for the period, but I barely found anything likable about him.  Christine Fraser, our frazzled and often misguided heroine, did nothing for me, I found her naivete exasperating.  Often taking chances and getting herself into fixes, without the adorableness often found in a Julie Garwood medieval heroine, she was just plain annoying!  Granted, she is put in a terrible position, forced to marry Tor against her will.  A sacrifice, no matter how drop dead sexy he is.  He has no time for a wife and makes it clear that all he's interested in is "bed sport."  How terrible! *grin* He's angry that he had to marry her in the first place because he "accidentally" ruined her.  He was tricked into having to marry her by her father.  As a result, he's cold to her during the day, leaving her on her own most of the time at his castle on Skye.  But at night Christine sees a different side to hm.  He becomes a considerate and generous lover.  Now, if only she can get the lover Tor to be more lover-like during the daytime!

To add some drama, of course there's the usual lack of communication between them.  Christine is jumping to all sorts of conclusions about an "other woman" who Christine is convinced Tor is carrying one with.  It doesn't help that she is his former leman.  She has no idea what her husband is really up to all the time (he's training the rest of the Highland Guard) and he sees no reason to tell her.  He doesn't want to put her in unnecessary danger - but does he tell her that?  No!  Finally, when she really is in mortal danger, he realizes he loves his young and desirable wife, but of course, only once he thinks he's losing her, does he admit it to himself.  Oh no! Will he lose her before he can tell her?

I suspect this series is going to have more fighting and battle action in it than in her previous series.  The romance between Tor and Christine was almost secondary to Tor's training of his Highland Guard.  We get to know many of his warriors, thus setting up future books in the series for each one.  Unfortunately, I don't intend to read on in the series.  It just didn't capture my interest enough and I found it a little boring.  Give me an interesting heroine who's more than just a pretty face and body with some humor thrown in to the plot line.  On top of that make the hero less granite faced - he needs to lighten up.  So what if it's historically inaccurate - it would make him more appealing.   Then, I might be more amenable to continuing on with the series.  As it is, I think I'll pass.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Secret Desires of a Gentleman by Laura Lee Guhrke

Book Description:
Once Upon a Time...

Maria Martingale was going to elope. But Phillip Hawthorne, Marquess of Kayne, put a stop to those plans when he learned his younger brother intended to marry a cook's daughter. Now, twelve years later, Maria discovers that the man who holds her fate in his hands is none other than the haughty gentleman who sent her packing - and he's as handsome and arrogant as ever. Happily Ever After? Always the proper gentleman, Phillip will do anything to protect his family from scandal, and when Maria dares to move in right next door, he knows scandal will surely follow. She is as tempting as he remembered...and the more he sees her, the harder it is for Phillip to keep his own secret desire for her a secret...  

I loved this book!  It reminded me a little bit of the movie, Sabrina and a little bit of Pride and Prejudice - how could I not love it?  Two of my favorite movies! 

This is the third in Guhrke's Girl Bachelor Series.  Set during late Victorian times in the 1890's (one of my favorite romance novel periods), Maria is a self enterprising heroine.  She is a hard worker and has a good head on her shoulders.  She is determined to make a success of herself as London's premier patisserie owner.  As far as Maria is concerned, times are modern for a young, single woman and she will not let the masculine world of prejudices prevent her from grabbing the brass ring.  Yes, she is the daughter of a chef, hardly part of the upper class, but she was well schooled.  Sent away to boarding school, she later learned how to become a top notch baker in the French style.  Her pastries are to die for - and she knows it! *grin*  We first meet Maria as she finds an ideal kitchen for lease.  With her best friend's money to back her (it's Prudence, who is now a duchess from the last book in the series), Maria can't resist the modern, clean kitchen that also has a front room for her bakery.  It's perfect!  Until she finds out who the owner is!  It's Phillip Hawthorne, Marquess of Kayne, the elder brother of her former fiance from twelve years earlier.

Phillip was responsible for Maria's broken heart and she'll hate him forever!  But, as we learn over the course of the story, was she really in love way back when, as a young and naive seventeen year old?  And why is she still so angry with Phillip after all these years?  Maria grew up with the two brothers, Phillip and Lawrence, because Maria's father was the family chef.  Scampering around, climbing trees and playing cricket, Maria was close to the boys.  But, once they all became teenagers, everything changed.  Phillip became distant and serious.  Hurt, Maria turned to Lawrence and before long they believed themselves in love and planned to elope.  As the young Marquess of Kayne, Phillip put a kabosh on the whole thing and paid off Maria to stay away from his brother forever.  Young and brokenhearted, she took the money and used it to support herself as she learned how to become a first rate pastry chef.

Now, the whole awful memory has come back to haunt her.  Lawrence is back in town from America, about to be engaged to a rich American heiress, and Phillip is doing his best to keep them apart.   I loved Phillip!  We get his point of view as well in the story and there's more to him than meets the eye.  Inheriting his title at a young age, as well as being saddled with a ton of debt, he busied himself by turning the family fortune around.  He's a businessman now and he's not about to let Maria ruin the possibility of a big shipping deal with Lawrence's future father-in law.  Lawrence, unfortunately, is a bit of a scapegrace.  Fortunately, Maria has no interest in him - she just wants to be left alone by the two brothers to run her bakery.  But, as it turns out Phillip is her landlord!  They're thrown together constantly and soon the two of them can't deny the attraction that has been simmering since they first bumped into each other!

Phillip soon cannot stop thinking about Maria, he becomes obsessed with her.  It doesn't help they share a balcony that joins their two separate town houses.  All he can think about is that she is in the room nextdoor  - undressing.  He wants her badly, but being the gentleman that he is, he does the unthinkable.  He proposes to her - and what a mess of it he makes.  Rivaling Mr. Darcy at Hunsford, Phillip makes no bones about how unsuitable a match he believes the two of them will make.  But nothing can stop him.  He must have her.  Well, Maria lets him know exactly what she thinks about that!  (Trust me, he makes it up to her later!)

Despite his disastrous proposal, I loved seeing how both of them cave in to their passion, and we get some insight into how Phillip felt all those years ago, and what was the real reason behind why he forced Maria and Lawrence to break up.  I found many moments amusing, poignant and the ending was very special, albeit, a trifle corny and totally unrealistic - I loved it!

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did - Maria is feisty and strong and Phillip is handsome and debonair with an Achilles Heel that can't turn away a chocolate tart.  Can he let loose and drop his serious side and have fun again with the pert young girl he knew and longed for long ago?  No matter how lowly her connections?  Anything is possible!

A great book!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Spare by Carolyn Jewel

Book Description:
Captain Sebastian Alexander was The Spare, but as the younger son he inherited more than a title after his brother's murder. He acquired a family estate with dark secrets that threatened his life. He took on a quest to avenge his brother. But most troublesome of all, he found a red-haired beauty who was either a guileless witness or a ruthless seductress.

Olivia Willow was missing three days from her life. She'd been a guest at Pennhyll the night of the murder, but now she could recall nothing. The new earl was determined to help her remember. He charmed, he beguiled - he matched wits with her. And soon, instead of trading barbs they shared kisses, and instead of seeking out the past, they were fighting for a future.

Once again I really enjoyed one of Carolyn Jewel's early regencies.  This one had a ghost story and mystery added to the story line that made it nearly impossible for me to put down.  I read it in one day.

While convalescing, Captain Sebastian Alexander, of His Majesty's Royal Navy, tries to solve the mystery of who murdered his brother and his brother's wife. One young woman, Olivia Willow, is the key to the mystery, but she has lost all memory of the event.  How does this impoverished, red haired beauty fit into Sebastian's life - and what is the meaning of the ancestral ghost that roams his castle? 

There were many complexities to this romance, it wasn't just an ordinary historical.  Much of the book read like a murder mystery with an eerie and ghostly overtone, not unlike the same feeling I got while reading The Turn of the Screw.  It kept me reading non-stop to find out what happens.  Plus, I was also curious about the two leads, Sebastian and Olivia and what their backgrounds were all about.  

I liked Sebastian, our hero, though at first I thought he was awful, but before long he grew on me.  Wounded in battle, Sebastian is on leave, waiting for his new orders and a new ship.  While recuperating from a chest injury at his ancestral home, Pennhyll Castle in Umbria, he is trying to get to the bottom of the murder of his brother, the late Earl of  Tiern-Cope.  Sebastian is considered quite the catch now that he's inherited the title from his brother.  Single women and their matchmaking mamas have descended upon the castle for a house party which has been organized by an old friend who thinks it prudent Sebastian marry his younger sister.  This makes Sebastian all the more cranky, resentful at the idea of marrying to carry on the family line.  Yet, he agrees to marry her and announce it at a ball to be given in three weeks on St. Agnes Eve.  Frustrated at being on land, he longs for a the sea.  Sebastian is like a wounded animal, snappish and rude to everyone.  His blunt demeanor and manners leave much to be desired.  He's used to being in command of a ship where everyone jumps at his orders.  He is not a man who will be crossed.  Needless to say, he hates the fact he is still weak.  He wants to get out and do something. 

He needs to find his brother's killer.  He also needs reassurance that he's not losing his mind.  Is it just his imagination, or is that really the ghost of one of his medieval ancestors lurking in the shadows?  Is there any truth to the legend of the Black Earl?  Are the claims that he is seen by the present earl when he is soon to marry his bride true?  What about the legend that he returns to roam the corridors of the castle from dawn to dawn on St. Agnes Eve?

One of his houseguests is Olivia Willow, a spare female and the heroine of the story.  When an extra woman is needed to even out the numbers for a dinner party or house party, Olivia is often called in to fill in the spot.  A local spinster, she was present at the time the late earl was murdered and nearly died herself of a gunshot wound because of it.  With no memory of the traumatic event of the murders, Sebastian singles her out for answers.  She wants to remember just as much as he does for she feels strange at having no memory.  She needs to remember for her own sake and peace of mind.  Sebastian is torn, he is attracted to Olivia, yet he doesn't completely trust her.  She is refreshing compared to the other women who have perfected the art of boredom, but as the story develops we learn of some alarming events that may or may not have occurred between her and Sebastian's late brother.

Sebastian's feelings for Olivia are all over the place.  He has trouble believing that Olivia is as good as she seems.  Is she really as guileless as her demeanor indicates or was she his brother's mistress?  At times Sebastian treats her abominably, fighting his attraction towards her and trying to get to the truth of what happened that night.  He callously questions her, jumping to conclusions about her relationship with his brother, no matter her denials.  The mystery becomes murkier as we learn of what really happened to Olivia the night of the murders besides the gun shot wound.  Her loss of memory is now a blessing in disguise.  Sebastian softens towards her when he learns the truth.  If she regains her memory to find out who murdered his brother, she will also remember the terrible events that led up to the murder.  She may fall to pieces if she remembers what happened to her that night.  Can he do that to her and risk hurting the woman that he is beginning to fall in love with?

On top of everything else, Sebastian and Olivia are having these strange dreamlike moments involving one another.  I found them hard to follow and understand at times, for it was difficult to distinguish what was a dream and what was real.  Erotic in nature, both are finding themselves drawn to each other more and more and the dreams are very realistic.  They are blending with reality to the point where Sebastian is not sure if he has made love to Olivia or not?  Was it a dream or did it really happen?  Somehow the ghost of his ancestor has something to do with it as well.   There's a bath scene that I'm still not sure if it was a dream or not.

As complicated as it all sounds, I really loved how the whole mystery played out.  Sebastian's transformation over the course of the weeks is remarkable.  He becomes a kinder and gentler man, no longer the domineering and gruff captain who seemed to take pleasure in making people feel uncomfortable.  I was happy for him in the end when he realizes he loves Olivia and wishes to take care of her.  Olivia  needed someone badly to help her and I'm glad the Captain came into her life.   By the end of the book, we find out who the killer is and all is wrapped up, although I found it slightly anti-climatic.  Still, I found the conclusion satisfying, although I felt like Olivia sort of faded into the woodwork at the big finale!  Sebastian told her not to leave her room and that was the last of Olivia while all hell was breaking loose!

So far I've really enjoyed Carolyn Jewel's books, I find the settings evocative and in this one, the action was gripping and suspenseful.  The romantic relationship between Olivia and Sebastian was not as hot as in her other books, but the ghost story and mystery behind the story more than made up for the lack thereof.   I also found parts of the book reminiscent of Austen's Persuasion. It's probably just me, but there was something that kept making me think of it! It must have been because Sebastian was a sea captain and Olivia's cousin returns with the intention of marrying her. She does not like him for some reason, there is something about him... not unlike the feeling we get with Anne's cousin, Mr. Elliott in Persuasion, but that's about as far as the similarities go.

A quick and compelling read, I recommend it.  

Heather and Velvet by Teresa Medeiros

Book Description:
Wounded in a foiled robbery attempt, Scottish bandit Sebastian Kerr must rely on the assistance of Prudence Walker, an innocent orphan.

This was a convoluted Georgian romance centered around a notorious highwayman known as the Dreadful Scot Bandit Kirkpatrick, who's real name is Sebastian Kerr.  With a long, drawn out plot line that was broken up into two parts, it had me confused and wondering through most of it.  I don't even know how I can write a coherent review of this book because it had so many story lines and details to it. 

What did the fearful highwayman Sebastian really want?  Was it the nearsighted and innocent young lass who rescued him from a bullet wound one rainy night?  Or is it the money and respectability of marrying her attractive - albeit self centered - aristocratic Aunt Tricia?   Despite the confusing plot line, parts of the story were funny and Medeiros has a flair for the sense of humor, particularly Aunt Tricia (and her wig!)  Her characterizations of the side characters were well done and, ironically, I appreciated them more than the leads.  But overall, the whole thing was all over the place and hard to follow despite it's amusing bits.

The first half of the book follows Sebastian and Prudence and how they deal with the fact they are crazy about one another but he needs to marry her aunt for her money so he can regain his castle in Scotland.  Sebastian is living two lives, one as the secret highwayman, the other as a Scottish nobleman.  Prudence knows his secret and her life is in peril because of it.  Sebastian's grandfather, a Frenchman who wants to overthrow the English monarchy, wants Sebastian to kill Prudence.  His grandfather has his own grand designs and Prudence's knowledge can ruin his plans. 

Prudence seems to be two different people as well.  The real Prudence is a prudish and sensible wallflower living with her aunt who nobody notices.  Nothing like the wild and vivacious young thing Sebastian met that night in the rain - and in his bed.  Prudence hates Sebastian for leading her on when he intended to marry her aunt for her money.  He asks Prudence to be his mistress, of all things, once he's married to her aunt.  Grossly insulted she refuses his offer.  Then, there's this sticky matter of whether he's going to kill her or not.  There are lots of other details and people I'm leaving out, believe me.

Part Two begins a few months later.  Prudence has managed to stop the marriage to her aunt by having Sebastian "captured" and sent off to Scotland.  She has saved Sebastian from the noose for highway robbery.  Despite everything, she still loves him.  Crazy, I know.  There were so many complications in this romance, I was baffled through much of the second half of the book.  While in Scotland, Sebastian falls to his lowest point and becomes the leader of a gang of thieves.  As fate would have it, Prudence is now a duchess (!) and has lots of money!  She deliberately tries to find Sebastian so she can tell him that she still loves him and help him.  But, at the same time, she's also engaged to his archenemy - the MacKay - the man who owns the title and castle that Sebastian feels he has rights to.  Sebastian forces her to marry him instead and then she hates him again - did he marry her for her money or because he really loves her?  Back and forth, back and forth - I got so sick of these two! Grr!

Although a lot of this book was entertaining, I had so many issues with the crazy storyline and loose ends!  Did I happen to mention that Prudence is an expert when it comes to gunpowder? Whatever happened to the notion that Sebastian had to kill her?  Whatever happened to his French grandfather in the House of Commons - and how can a Frenchman become a member of the House in England anyway?  How come no one realized who MacKay obviously was until the end?  I guessed it from the time we first meet him.

Parts dragged and other parts were amusing.  It's hard to say whether I liked the first part or second better.  What parts did I really like?

Tricia - she was very funny with her many past husbands - and her wig.

Devoney, Prudence's neighbor - I laughed at her silliness and how she loved being ravished by highwaymen!

The butlers - both were funny in their own way, very cheeky.

Jamie, Sebastian's sidekick - what a laugh, won me over by the end, though I didn't like him at first, he turned out to be an angel in disguise for Prudence.  Dressed up as Cupid - what a riot!

The long and short of it is, this book was all over the place.  The romance was uneven and I wasn't overly crazy about either the hero or heroine.  Yet, it's saving grace was the light hearted surprises and humor.  The minor characters kept me reading.   Read it if you're into highwaymen, but as a Georgian romance, you might want to skip it.

Btw, the copyright is 1992, is that Fabio on the cover??

Related Posts with Thumbnails